When Minter Ellison CEO Annette Kimmitt discovered that a senior partner in her firm had agreed to represent Attorney General Christian Porter over defamation, she sent an email to all staff saying she was “hurt” by the decision.
Now she’s reportedly become the first and only person so far to be stood down amid the nation-wide crisis involving rape allegations against Christian Porter.
On Wednesday, Minter Ellison’s board determined that her position was untenable as a result of the email, according to The Financial Review. There has been no official announcement out of Minter Ellison, and calls to the media department this morning went unanswered.
Kimmitt’s reported ousting comes a week after media reports revealed that prominent Minter Ellison partner, Peter Bartlett, had agreed to represent the Attorney-General on defamation, over the rape allegations.
In an email leaked to the AFR, Kimmitt said she’d only become aware that Bartlett would be representing Porter following those media reports.
“The nature of this matter is clearly causing hurt to some of you, and it has certainly triggered hurt for me.”
She apologised for the pain that some staff may have been experiencing.
And she said that accepting the case had not gone through the firm’s usual consultation or approval process. “Had it done so, we would have considered the matter through the lens of our Purposes and Values.”
The partner who took on the representation, Bartlett, then personally emailed staff in response to Kimmitt’s email, noting that he had advised many federal and state ministers, from both parties including the Prime Minister.
“This week I received a call from the PM’s office thanking me for trying to assist with the AG.”
Bartlett said he “would have thought” that the majority of partners in the firm would believe everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence — and to recieve legal represenation.
Many in the legal profession do say the email was a mistake. That everyone has the right to fair representation and that Kimmitt should not have commented on who partners choose to represent.
But to lose your job for reaching out to staff to ensure they are ok? That’s another matter. It suggests that not everyone has a right to express vulnerability. That a CEO should never express hurt, or connect with staff following a big public decision or matter that’s impacted where they work.
And that creates a dangerous precedent for CEOs, their staff, and for all of us.
Indeed, even in arguing this email was a mistake — making it a sackable offence takes it to an entire other level.
According to the Financial Review, Minter’s board had hoped to wait a couple of months before making an official announcement — possibly in the hope that the saga would blow over and that people would forget. Perhaps, they’re getting their cues from our Federal Government on that strategy.
Kimmitt’s faced a week of her career, her expertise, her leadership style and how she operates being debated in the media. Some within Minter Ellison — usually quoted anonymously — are quick to note that she’s a non lawyer running a law firm. That, in sending the email, she proved her lack of understanding on how a law firm operates.
Kimmitt’s been with the firm since 2018, coming across from accounting firm EY. I think we can assume she knows how a law firm operates.
We’ve also been given great insight into how she operates: with vulnerability, with transparency, with communication.
Former Lawyer and now CEO of Grace papers, Prue Gilbert said that anyone viewing Kimmitt’s action as “political and interfering” is clouded by “their own unchecked privilege, which has historically seen firms prioritise the interests of rainmakers.”
“For many, many more employees – and largely those not in positions of power – Kimmitts’ decision seeks to balance the competing interests of workplace well-being health and safety with other governance responsibilities. It acknowledges the lived experience of so many and says we will be accountable to you too,” she said.
Anyone who works in a large firm in Australia under a CEO may now be wondering whether he or she can really acknowledge the hurt and pain the staff they employ could be feeling.
Big law firms must compete for the best possible talent in order to stay at the top of their game. Minter’s itself is still striving to reach a 40% female target by 2025. Will it get there?